A boxing match is often hyperbolized as “war” in literature, though the disparity in scale and gravity make a gloved fight seem relatively civil by comparison. Yet, just as in war, there is no guarantee that a fighter will leave the ring in the same condition in which he entered it.
Joyce Carol Oates once wrote in her essay “The Cruelest Sport”: “Boxing is a stylized mimicry of a fight to the death.”
If so, a boxing fight is but a mere skirmish in the drawn-out war that is the athlete’s struggle to fulfill his own potential.
Shawn Cameron (@Killa_154) knows the difference between boxing and war. A pro fighter since 2012, the native of Brooklyn, N.Y., says he takes his career one fight and one workout at a time. It’s a mindset he learned during his time in the United States Army, where tomorrow was never guaranteed, and death by an improvised explosive device was as ubiquitous as a yellow taxi at Port Authority.
The unbeaten junior middleweight Cameron (9-0, 4 knockouts) will put his trade on display on Wednesday when he faces Francisco Javier Reza at B.B. King Blues Club and Grill in New York City’s Times Square. His fight on DiBella Entertainment’s “Broadway Boxing” will be the southpaw fighter’s first eight-round assignment.
The 32-year-old says he never expected that his life would turn down the path of boxing. He’s been conditioned by experience to embrace the natural course of things, just as he did when his father brought him down to the Army recruiting office to enlist after he graduated high school.
“I was involved in your regular bulls–t. Typical neighborhood kid getting into whatever,” said Cameron, whose forceful accent and casual use of swear words make asking his hometown redundant.
The intention was to sway him from the street life that absorbs many wayward youths. When two planes crashed into the World Trade Center towers on September 11, 2001, the stakes became even greater, and his character would be tested more than he ever anticipated.
“It was insane, because at that moment you knew s–t was real,” said Cameron, who was on home leave during the deadliest terror attack in American history. “You know when you watch the news and they talk about all the crazy s–t in the world, but it’s all foreign, you really can’t relate. But then this happened, in America, in New York City.”
Cameron was stationed at Fort Hood in Texas as a member of the 68th Chemical Company 1st Cavalry Division, and in South Korea as part of the 1/9 Infantry. He served two tours during Operation Iraqi Freedom and was set to leave in 2005, but had his tour involuntarily extended until 2006 due to the stop-loss policy.
“I’m from f–king New York, and before you know it I’m in the desert, it’s 100 degrees, you’re starving and it’s just one mission to the next. You’re driving to different places in convoys, you can really get hurt,” said Cameron.
His best friend – Staff Sgt. Morgan Kennon – was killed during an extended tour. Cameron, who also rose to the rank of staff sergeant, considers himself lucky to have made it home.
From smokers to MSG
While enlisted, Cameron passed the time fighting in smokers, knocking out opponents in the informal boxing matches while stationed in South Korea. The experience piqued his interest in boxing enough that he sought a gym when he returned to civilian life. A Google search brought him into the red-painted warehouse loft of the historic Gleason’s Gym in December 2007.
Less than a year and a half later, Cameron won the New York Daily News Golden Gloves 152-pound novice title in Madison Square Garden. He also made the finals of the New York Metros that year, then went to the quarterfinals of the 2010 National PAL tournament. All this was accomplished in fewer than 30 amateur fights.
Cameron’s work ethic, his trainer, Don Saxby, suggests, is what has enabled him to get to this point on an accelerated track.
“He’s not your average late bloomer. Guess it’s the two-time war vet inside of him,” Saxby said.
Cameron, who now lives in the Co-Op City section of The Bronx, has benefited from the sparring that comes through Gleason’s. Getting in the ring with respected pros let him know there wasn’t a significant gap in ability.
“I’m like, ‘What’s the difference between this guy and me? Motherf–ker breathes and bleeds just like me. If he can do it, why can’t I do it?'”
Cameron is actively involved in the Wounded Warriors Program, working out with injured service members at Gleason’s. The physical exercise helps, but Cameron says it helps them to relate to someone who has seen the same sights that they’ve seen in lands faraway.
Away from the ring, Cameron works with the Metropolitan Transit Authority, writing summonses for fare evaders in the afternoons after his workouts.
“The funny thing is I got so many summonses back in the day for doing the same s–t. Now I’m writing tickets for doing that,” said Cameron.
Looking ahead, Cameron would like to finish off his 10th victory, get a few more wins under his belt, then get on television some time down the line.
He doesn’t know what lies ahead; just that he won’t let any of life’s opportunities pass by without an honest effort.
“I’m just gonna keep putting my best foot forward and if something happens where I get a big fight, that’s cool. If it don’t happen, the worst thing that could happen is knowing that I could actually do it and I didn’t do it,” said Cameron.
Ryan Songalia is the sports editor of Rappler, a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and a contributor to The Ring magazine. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.
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